Citizens join together to protest the Times Beach incinerator
BY C.D. STELZER
first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Aug. 2, 1995
For George and Ida Klein, last Thursday afternoon was no picnic. The temperature that day reached a high of 94 degrees, and it felt much hotter standing in the middle of Lewis Road in West St. Louis County. The Kleins – who lived in Times Beach for 43 years — joined about 100 other people outside the Environmental Protection Agency’s project office to protest the construction of the Times Beach dioxin incinerator.
The rally had been organized by the Times Beach Action Group (TBAG). Members of other environmental groups such as the Gateway Green Alliance, Student Environmental Action Coalition, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club also took part. Fifteen of the more militant protesters were arrested for trespassing, after they crossed behind a gate that blocks access to the old Meramec River bridge, leading to the incinerator site.
St. Louis County police officers escorted or carried those arrested to an awaiting police van, as the crowd continued to chant slogans, unfurl banners and wave placards. About half of those attending the rally were local residents from the nearby towns of Eureka and Crescent.
Kool-Aid provided by Syntex, the company liable for the Superfund clean up, did little to cool Ida Klein’s attitude toward the plan to burn 100,000 cubic yards of dioxin-contaminated waste at the site of her former hometown. “I think it’s terrible. I think they ought to not do it,” says the 71-year-old Klein. “There are going to be so many people sick from it. We’ve got three in our family who got cancer. My daughter had to have a hysterectomy at 30. Two years ago she had to have a breast removed with cancer and have six months of chemo(-therapy),” she says. In addition, Klein says her 81-year-old husband had to have 14-inches of his colon removed, when he was 62-years-old. At the time, the family still lived in Times Beach, she says. More recently, the couple’s youngest daughter discovered at age 33 that she had cancer of the cervix,” Klein says.
It is those kinds of concerns that prompted Mary Derrick of Crescent to attend the rally. “Those people who got arrested, in my mind, they’re heroes,” says Derrick. Derrick was holding one corner of a banner inscribed with a verse from the Bible: “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
Before the rally, TBAG members and their allies rendezvoused at an old farmstead in West County. Their preparations included dividing up the placards, banners, moon suits, bio-hazardous waste bags and smoke bombs, which would soon become part of the media event. Outside the 19th-century caretaker’s house, with its massive stone foundation, a portable radio was propped up on the hood of an old Plymouth Horizon. At noon, the voice of KMOX radio reporter Margie Manning could be heard announcing details of the protest, including a sound bite from TBAG organizer Steve Taylor. Then someone shut the radio off, and 20 people quietly held hands in a circle. Some of the veteran activists gave encouragement and advise to the others. Many in the circle would soon be arrested, manacled and held in an unventilated police van.
After the arrests, Rick LaMonica, a member of the Gateway Greens offered his view of the situation. “There are a lot of people who lived in Times Beach for 10 or 15 years who were getting a perpetual run-around from the EPA, DNR (Missouri Department of Natural Resources) and the state department of health. They just know that they’re constantly lied to, and one of the biggest lies is that this is a solution to the problem,” says LaMonica. “Incineration doesn’t so much destroy the waste as disperse the waste,” LaMonica says.
Burning organo-chlorines such as dioxin actually reforms other dioxins, and allows heavy metals to escape through the incinerator’s stack, LaMonica says. “Anytime you have compounds that have chlorine, you are going to be forming dioxins from burning. … EPA knows that. Their own reassessment shows that it’s more hazardous than they have been admitting.
“In the mid-80s, they knew that incineration was not a good technology. Our problem is that they don’t really want to consider any alternatives. There are better ways to clean up Superfund sites, but the EPA doesn’t want to consider them unless they’re forced. … It has nothing to do with science. The science says they’re wrong. The science and medical data have been telling that for decades.They just seem more interested in pushing contract deals with engineering companies that design and build incinerators then really trying to clean up Superfund (sites).”